Jeepers! I’ve been married to a sweet, beautiful, talented, charming woman for 21 years! So to celebrate, we opened some champers. (The photo is obviously from before we opened it. Once it was open I was too occupied with serving dinner to take another picture.)

You know the term jeepers, I suppose. It’s rather old fashioned now, about on level with gadzooks. It probably brings a particular song to mind:

(It might also bring to mind a much more recent horror movie franchise of the same name, but I’m not posting any video clips from that.)

That song first came out in 1938; Ethel Waters did the first studio recording of it, but Louis Armstrong boosted its fame the same year by singing it in the movie Going Places – only in the movie he sings it to a horse. (A horse? Well, he was black, and it was 1938 in the USA, so there was no question of his singing it to a woman in a movie. In the script they named the horse Jeepers Creepers and he sang the song to it. Now, horses can have nice eyes, but come on, hmm?)

So is that where jeepers comes from? Nope. Johnny Mercer – the guy who wrote the lyrics to the song – explained in an interview that he had some music by Harry Warren that he needed words for, and then he saw Henry Fonda in a movie where he played a farm boy, and Fonda said “Jeepers creepers!” And that was exactly what Mercer needed for the song.

So it was something that Fonda said in a movie? Yeah: in The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935) – but Fonda didn’t exactly improvise it. It’s in the script, and the scriptwriter got it from the novel the movie is based on, Rome Haul (1929), by Walter D. Edmonds. Did Edmonds make it up? It doesn’t look like it; you can find several earlier uses of it in short stories published in magazines in the 1920s in Google Books. A few of them are proper names, but the rest are exactly this exclamation.

So, OK, whoever said it first had to make it up on some basis, right? 

…Yes… It’s an exclamation, of the euphemistic kind. 

What could a person being substituting “Jeepers creepers” for? Well, hmm. What thing might some people exclaim that involves two words starting with “jee” and “cr,” do you think?

Mm-hmm. It’s a minced oath for “Jesus Christ.” Kind of casts a new complexion on the song, I suppose – but, then, complexion is also why Louis sang it to a horse.

But then why am I exclaiming it about the happy occasion of my marriage attaining an age such that, if it were a person, it could drink in any province or state? I guess I just thought of it because of the champers we were drinking. (Champers as a cute version of Champagne dates to a couple of decades later than jeepers, by the way; the OED’s first citation for it is 1955.)

Did you notice the label on the bottle? It’s Jeeper La Grande Cuvée Millésime Brut 2005. It came well recommended, so, as Aina and I both love our fizzy-o-therapy, I bought a bottle four months ago and hung onto it for an occasion. Now, the names of Champagne houses are often a bit on the unexpected side – Krug hardly sounds French; Moët and Perrier-Jouët fool people who don’t know you’re supposed to say the t on the end of each, and Perrier-Jouët also sounds like it might be high-priced water; Taittinger is an evidently German name but an obviously French producer, so however you pronounce it is going to sound wrong to someone – but Jeeper struck me as next-level. Is it a Dutch name that ended up in France (like Citroën)? Is it some regional quirky French thing? Is it an English family that set up shop?

None of the above. It’s apparently because the original owner of the Champagne house, back in 1949 (yes, it’s not as old as some), had a Jeep he bought from the departing American army after World War II. He used it to drive around the vineyards. I guess he was fond of it, and proud of being a Jeeper. And that original Jeep owes nothing to jeepers (nor vice versa; Jeep dates to the 1940s), though it’s not unreasonable to imagine the brand Jeeper might have some influence from it. (I’d hope that’s the only influence the owner was driving under, but…)

So there you go. That’s quite the journey, eh? But not as long as 21 years. Jeepers!

4 responses to “jeepers

  1. 21 years!!!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  2. I was glad that OED confirmed my recollection that Jeep seems to have been influenced by Popeye.
    “< the initials G.P. /dʒiː piː/ ‘general purpose’, probably influenced by the name ‘Eugene the Jeep’, a creature of amazing resource and power, first introduced into the cartoon strip ‘Popeye’ on 16 March 1936 by his creator E. C. Segar."

  3. Another great learning experience!

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